In Zen In The Art Of Writing, Ray Bradbury describes how he feels weird if he doesn’t write for a couple of days. I can’t remember the details, so I’ll project how I interpreted it. A little anxious, a little morose, a little “unclean”, even. Not writing for a few days is like not cleaning the house for a few days– things start to get dirty and messy and really uncomfortable. I think if there’s anything at all that suggests that I might be destined to be a writer, it’s the fact that I feel really weird when I haven’t written in a while. It’s silly of me not to internalize this fact quicker, because I’d be both happier and more productive if I simply wrote everyday.
I spent a little bit of time today clicking around the internet, clicking around reddit, and I started to feel my brain rotting. I fucking hate that feeling, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. I call myself a child of the Internet, but the truth is that a lot of the internet is very tedious and wasteful. I like the internet for its ability to connect people, but the vast majority of people aren’t interested in having some sort of in-depth conversation at every moment. They might be receptive to it if it’s something that means a lot to them, but most people go on Reddit or Facebook for quick entertainment and laughs, and some bitching and steam-letting.
I used to be a Facebook addict, writing long status updates, replying to other people’s statuses, really, spending hours on it everyday. Somehow it felt like validation, it felt like I wasn’t wasting my time even if there were little to no stakes, and little to no impact on my life outside of those pixels. I eventually got sick of it and I deleted every single friend off of Facebook. The silence was deafening for a while, but I adjusted. I went on to unfollow everyone on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram as well. I think this happened around August 2014 or so, and for a few months I sort of enjoyed living that different life.
Over time, though, it crept back on me. I haven’t been writing Facebook status-essays, and I’ve been doing these vomits instead, which I am prouder of. I’m not sure why that is. I suppose when you own your own project, put your own name on it, and carve out a space for yourself rather than piggyback off of communal space and communal attention, you get to dictate how the conversation goes. I’ve noticed this playing out even on my own blogs– I used to blog about Singaporean political issues, and I kept at it because there was all sorts of feedback. But after a while I realized that I was playing into a broader circus that wasn’t entirely of my own choosing. I was writing what other people wanted to read, and it felt a little hollow.
I’m currently re-reading Neil Strauss’s The Game, which is I think an underrated book– he talks about all sorts of interesting things apart from having sex with women, but most people just focus on the sex-with-women part. If and when I review it, I’d like to review all of the other parts instead. The part that’s relevant to this train of thought– Neil talked about how standup comedians teach themselves to develop a tight 5-minute routine that should work on anybody, anywhere, but after using it over and over again they lose respect for audiences because they’re so easy to manipulate. I suppose I felt the same way about writing about the Singaporean political scene, which was what made me quit. And I suppose similarly, I felt that frustration with myself for smoking cigarettes, and I feel that frustration now when I watch myself writing mini-essays on Reddit– exactly the same way I used to do on Facebook.
Why do I keep seeking out this micro-validation from strangers on the Internet? I suppose because it’s easy and accessible and bite-sized. There’s something about a conversation– and I was having this conversation (so meta) on Twitter with a couple of writers I admire. They were talking about writer’s block, and I shared with them that my go-to solution to writer’s block is to simply explain to another person what you want to write– and then use that explanation as source material. One of them said– Exactly, there’s no such thing as Talker’s Block.
I suppose that’s the thing about writing in response to other people– there’s no blockage. It’s easier. You feel like there’s a demand for your work. I was reading somewhere else that it’s very easy to get caught up in the busywork of replying to emails– there’s something about what it feels like to respond to a question, or to something somebody says– that makes you feel like what you’re doing matters. And the deceptive thing is– it’s not that it doesn’t matter at all (ignoring existential does-anything-matter considerations), it’s that it’s usually worth RELATIVELY little. Tawk is cheap, except in the few instances where it isn’t, and sitting around waiting for these opportunities is a very lousy strategy. It can sorta feel good, but it’s lousy.
I guess I’m writing this to myself to say, dude, get the fuck off Reddit. It’s the same problem you had with Facebook, which is that you’re not exactly talking or writing on your own terms. You’re just following strangers around. It’s like sitting in a bar looking for conversations to join. The problem is that it’s very rare that great conversationalists come to a bar to bitch about things– more often than not they’re busy with their work. They’re busy focused on the things that matter. So I suppose this is my affirmation to say, no reddit for me until I’ve made substantial progress with these vomits. Maybe until I’m done with the whole thing altogether. Tawk is cheap. Tawk is cheap. Tawk is cheap.